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Bijinga – The World of Shoen Uemura’s Beautiful Women

Whenever I host foreign visitors in Tokyo, they invariably comment on the meticulous appearance of Japanese women. Depending on their viewpoint, my friends see this adherence to a particularly Japanese idea of beauty – elegant, modest, and feminine – as (usually) something admirable and aspirational, or (occasionally), evidence of a patriarchal society in which women are encouraged to conform to a tightly-defined aesthetic standard. Regardless of whether you think a focus on appearance is liberating or restricting for women, I… Read more »

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Miya Ando

Artist Miya Ando grew up on the grounds of a Buddhist temple in Japan and in a remote area of California. Her spare and contemplative works in metal, glass and natural materials are filled with light and strength, revealing ancestral influences as the descendent of Nicheren Buddhist monks in Bizen, Japan and the 16th generation of a samurai sword craftsmen family. Her humor and warmth quite possibly come from her father’s Jewish/Russian lineage. Ando was born in the United States… Read more »

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Inden-ya

Deer, in Japan, are not a widely used source of food or leather, so it often surprises a visitor, — and even many Japanese — to come across Inden-ya, which specializes in beautifully crafted leather goods made of lacquered deerskin. Although cows have long replaced deer as the favored source of leather, it is believed that deerskin was used in Japan for protective clothing as far back as the 4th century B.C. In the heyday of the samurai, deerskin was… Read more »

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Stylish Ceramic Tableware and More at Utsuwa Kenshin

Despite being the capital of a nation obsessed with ceramics and contemporary design, Tokyo hosts surprisingly few shops that specialize in contemporary ceramic ware made by artists who, rather than following a time-honored aesthetic tradition, have developed their own distinctive style. So, it is always a joy to visit Utsuwa Kenshin, a small store located halfway between Shibuya and Omotesando in Tokyo. Here, the owner, Kenshin Sato, displays a carefully curated selection of handcrafted ceramics by artists whom he has… Read more »

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Zakka – last chance to delve into “goods and things”

The first thing to catch the eye when you walk into the extraordinary Zakka exhibition at 21_21 Design Sight is the stylized sign bearing the English translation of “zakka” as “goods and things.” What is a “good” and what is a “thing?” I wondered. In the end, this wide-ranging exhibit of retro-paraphernalia, contemporary design, with displays of everything from six-decades old cardboard packaging for toothpaste tubes and mosquito coils, plastic ice cream spoons (yes, really – my main thought was, who… Read more »

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Mashiko Pottery Fair – a Crafts Lovers’ Paradise

For most of the year, Mashiko is a sleepy little town of kilns, pottery shops and vegetable farms that seems to have been forgotten by the rest of the world. The last time I visited, a few years ago, the main street was deserted, many of the shops appeared to be closed and there were few indications of the legendary fame the town enjoys as the adopted home of Shoji Hamada, a leading figure of Japan’s folk art movement and… Read more »

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Takashi Murakami’s Kaleidoscopic World

Takashi Murakami’s art works are a cornucopia of ideas, trends and art forms.  As I entered the exhibition space at the Mori Art Museum, I was immediately struck by the force of the huge psychedelic paintings on display. But it was only after taking a couple of breaths and slowly walking around that I began to see the intricate details of the densely packed acrylic paintings. Murakami brings together his own take on Buddhist and Zen iconography, Chinese art, “otaku”… Read more »